Thousands of small business owners across the UK claim to have been locked into advertising contracts with Yell which generate no new customers for their business.
A typical prospect will first come into contact with Yell having added a free listing to the business directory on Yell.com.
The free listing will triggers a sales call from Yell’s telesales operation in Belfast. The unwitting prospect will be told that the purpose of the call is to “..ensure you get the most benefit from your free listing on Yell”.
The sales agent makes claims about how a prominent ranking on Google is the key to gaining new customers and how Yell is uniquely placed to “get your business on the first page of Google”.
The agent will ask the prospect how many new customers they wish to gain each month. They explain how, by using Yell’s products, these targets will be achieved.
Although Yell makes no formal guarantee of specific results, there is a strong implication made by the agent that the cost of Yell’s products should be viewed as an investment from which the prospect will see a profitable return.
The prospect is then subjected to 1.5-2 hours of high-pressure selling and pressed into placing an immediate order. Every prospect is offered a “discount” which the agent threatens to remove should the prospect not sign up immediately. The prospect is given little opportunity to read the terms of the contract before placing the order.
When you first speak to Yell’s sales agents, they will usually omit to tell you three vital pieces of information:
1) Yell add a 40% “Management Fee” to the cost of every click as charged by Google.
2) Your ad campaigns will be managed by an automated software platform (Kenshoo) and not by a human expert.
3) If your website has been built and managed by Yell, you will not have access to Google Analytics and, therefore, no way to determine for yourself whether your campaign is being managed correctly.
Now let’s look at why this information is so crucial to the success of your advertising:
Yell’s Management Fee
If you are paying 40% more for each click than your competitors, any business managing their own Google Ads campaign will be able to easily outbid you in the keyword auction. They can afford to bid more than you because each click is costing them 40% less.
When you pay 40% of your budget to Yell instead of Google, your budget will deplete at a much faster rate than your competitors’. If you have specified a maximum budget of, say, £200 per month; your ads will stop appearing when your click charges have reached only £143.
It would take a typical small business four months before they any chance of gaining a new customer. By which time, they will have spent almost £800 on Google advertising!
It is, therefore, highly likely that your campaign will never accumulate enough clicks in any given month for you to gain a single new customer. All of your money has been taken by Google and Yell with no likelihood of you ever seeing a return on your investment.
Automated Campaign Management
Unfortunately, we are nowhere near the stage where automated software can manage a Google Ads campaign as efficiently as an experienced marketing expert.
The software won’t know how much profit you could make from each customer, which services you do or don’t offer, or which keywords are more likely to lead to sales.
Your Google ads will be triggered by a wide variety of different keywords. If you are bidding on the search term, “Plumbers in London”, your ads may also appear for:
.. all of which could be generating a high volume of clicks, eating into your monthly budget but not generating any sales.
In addition, there could be some keywords with the potential to generate profitable sales that will never be triggered because your budget has been spent on irrelevant keywords that will never generate a customer. An expert marketer will know to check for these issues. Automated software cannot.
Yell have very few in-house Google Ads experts. The few that they do have, work only with clients with a budget in excess of £5,000 per month; and, only then, when specifically requested by the client.
No access to Google Analytics
If your website was built and managed by Yell, you probably won’t have access to Google Analytics. Instead, Yell will send you a basic monthly report showing only how much you have spent and how many people have seen and clicked on your ads.
Where Google Analytics has been made available, there appears to be significant discrepancies between the actual data and the figures quoted by Yell. You can draw your own conclusions as to why that might be.
Any business can register for a free listing on Yell.com and the Yell app. When someone searches for “Electricians in Edmonton” your business will then appear somewhere in the results.
You might think that, as a free service, there is no reason not to take advantage of Yell’s offer.
As soon as you have registered your free listing, your details will then be passed on to one of Yell’s sales agents based in their Belfast telesales centre. You may even have one of Yell’s sales reps turn up at your door.
You will be subjected to a high-pressure sales process lasting for 1-2 hours. The rep will offer you a “special discount” and assurances that make it extremely difficult for you to refuse. He will warn you that if you do not place an immediate order you will lose any discount being offered.
The moment you place an order you are then locked into a 12-month contract from which there is no cancellation or cooling-off period (even if you decided to cancel within minutes of placing the order).
There are now online groups dedicated solely to helping Yell’s customers extricate themselves from these punitive contracts.
Perhaps you consider yourself too wise or too cynical to fall foul of Yell’s sales techniques? I have spoken with lawyers, doctors, accountants and financial advisers who all became the unwitting victims of Yell.
When you perform a search on Yell.com (or on Yell’s mobile app) for, say, “Builders in Birmingham” you will find more than 250 listings across ten pages of results. The results appearing at the top of the page are far more likely to be viewed than those appearing towards the bottom. Those appearing on the second page and beyond are rarely ever viewed.
Yell offer customers the option to pay for a promoted listing to be shown in a specific position on the page. This is shown on Yell’s order form as ‘Local Sponsored Prominence – Position 1’. This gives the clear impression that the listing will appear in the first position.
Each position will carry a different cost with the highest positions being the most expensive. The cost will also vary according to the geographic areas and services you wish to cover.
The sales agent will claim that there are 35 million searches carried out on Yell every month and that paying for a promoted listing will put your business in front of a huge number of prospective customers.
The Yell.com website has seen a significant decline in traffic over the past five years. There are fewer and fewer people searching online for “Yell.com”. Anyone looking to hire a tradesperson now has a multitude of other options including listings and reviews directly from Google.
The number of searches for Yell.com on Google has decreased by 91% since 1015
The amount of organic search traffic to the Yell.com website has decreased from 10.3m visitors pm
to 5.3m visitors pm since November 2019. Source: Ahrefs.com
Yell’s sales agents boast about their company’s “special relationship” with Google. The primary focus of their sales script is based on how Yell will help your business appear more prominently on Google. Yell has (unsuccessfully) hired external SEO consultants to stop their own Google traffic even further.
If Yell can’t even manage their own site’s visibility on Google, how can they possibly help to manage yours?
Yell’s staff were incentivised to gain reviews for their customers on Yell.com. The staff member would ask friends and family to leave fake reviews for their clients, sometimes offering payment in return.
Yell has a history of manipulating online reviews for both their customers and for their own business on platforms such as TrustPilot and Reviews.co.uk.
An increasing number of searches on Yell’s platform are classified as “near-me” searches. These include searches where the user clicks the “near-me” icon to save having to type in their town or postcode. This is a convenient function widely used by Yell.com visitors.
Yell’s claimed search volumes also include searches performed on third-party platforms such as Apple’s Siri.
When a “near-me” search is performed on Yell.com, the Yell app or Apple’s Siri the order of results differs from those where a specific location or postcode has been entered. Those businesses that paid for a promoted listing will no longer appear in the positions for which they have paid, even when the user’s location is within their target area.
Yell has been aware of this issue for more than two years but have failed to resolve it. Businesses that ordered a promoted listing are effectively paying for a service they are not receiving.
Yell’s sales agents claim, “We are the only official Premier Partner of Facebook in the UK. If we don’t deliver, you get all your money back. If you do it yourself and it doesn’t work, you get no money back”.
Facebook doesn’t have any Premier Partners. Yell is just one of over 250 Facebook advertising partners in the UK. Beyond this, Yell has no special status with Facebook.
The money-back guarantee offered by the agents is shown here on Yell’s website (see image below).
Yell’s guarantee simply states that if your ad is not seen at least eight times by Facebook users, you will be able to claim your money back. It would be pretty much impossible to run any advertising campaign on Facebook without it being seen eight times.
The implication made by Yell’s agent that you “won’t pay anything if your campaign doesn’t work” is incredibly misleading. Any business owner will be measuring the success of a campaign in terms of leads, customers or, at the very least, visits to their website. Basing the guarantee on eight people seeing your ad makes it entirely worthless.
There has now been a Early Day Motion tabled in Parliament calling for a full investigation into Yell’s practices.
If it was not already obvious, my advice is to stay well clear of any product being offered by Yell. If your experience is similar to that of thousands of other Yell customers, you will be locked into a 12-month contract which you cannot cancel for products which are unlikely to provide any benefit to your business.
If you wish to file a complaint about Yell’s practices, please email Trading Standards email@example.com